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So Sue Me

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If it weren't so sad, it would be hilarious.

California has filed lawsuits against America's six largest automakers for causing global warming, giving European comedians yet another way to laugh at our absurdity.

California's suit claims that under "federal and state common law the automakers have created a public nuisance by producing millions of vehicles that collectively emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide."

Of course cars emit CO2. But if Californians and other Americans weren't buying cars, would Detroit and Tokyo be producing them?

What part of Economics 101 doesn't California understand?

Europeans have been joking about our stupidity in suing each other over the drop of a hat for decades while they've been doing the real work, actually reducing greenhouse emissions. That's part of the reason their backing of us in sanctions to halt Iranian nuclear ambitions is lukewarm. That's part of the reason they're giving us the proverbial finger in Iraq.

We sue. They do.

How? There's a variety of ways, but primarily across Europe those countries have taxed gasoline significantly — as much as four times the cost of importing it — and used that money to build alternative transportation: good mass transit and hiking and bike trails.

The highest mileage cars, and therefore least polluting cars, in the world are in Italy, where they also have the highest gasoline taxes. London charges about $15 a day to drive into the city center, and car travel is down by a third, while bus-speeds through the city have increased dramatically and the number of bicycle commuters has doubled to 119,000 daily.

High European gasoline, parking and road-use taxes "push" drivers out of cars, and simple education on how to get around without a car "pulls" them into other modes of getting from here to there. Europeans and Australians use travel awareness programs to show drivers how their driving affects the environment and their personal health, and increases dependence on imported oil.

In short, the Europeans took the Arabs at their word in the 1973 oil embargo and have done and are doing everything they can not to hand their balls to the mullahs again.

What do we do? We make the problem worse. We build more highways and we offer to rebate our already meager gasoline taxes.

Listen to the 1998 Commission on the Future of Transportation in Virginia:

"Additional lane miles of roads to accommodate the people lead to more development, and more people, and more congestion, and more lanes miles and around it goes. Urban planning experts say it is a futile exercise to attempt to build your way out of congestion problems by adding more highways."

Congestion's not global warming, of course, and neither is importing oil from the nine of 11 OPEC nations which are Muslim, but if you don't understand the connections, please never go near a voting booth again.

Politics, they say, is the "art of the possible."

And until Americans realize that it's our driving of 2.9 trillion miles a year in 411 billion trips — 87 percent of all trips are in a car — that is a major source of America's greenhouse gases, a major source of our obesity, a major source of the world's hatred of us, a major reason we're in Iraq, our politicians, be they Republican, Libertarian, Socialist or Democrats, can't begin solving the issue.

Even great environmentalist and soon-to-be presidential candidate Al Gore ignores that "Inconvenient Truth" in his speeches about global warming. He neglects to mention that 60 percent of our daily 11.5 million imported barrels of oil, at an annual cost of $251 billion, go into American gas and diesel tanks.

Instead, fearful of soccer moms in SUVs, our politicians today must do something absolutely absurd. Like sue automakers for providing what we want.

They take the cost of those suits which might go into the development of new technologies, which might produce more mass transit, which might build bicycling and walking transportation systems, and give it to lawyers.

If it wasn't so sad, it would be hilarious. S



Randy Salzman is a former journalism teacher at Virginia Union University and a transportation researcher who now lives in Charlottesville.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.




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